The La Musica International Chamber Music Festival's first three concerts proved the fest is on the upswing.
The La Musica International Chamber Music Festival returned to the Sarasota Opera House last week for its 33rd season. Every year brings mostly old favorites of the repertoire with an occasional surprise, but this season has featured both music and artists new to the festival.
The opening concert on April 8 featured the Martinu Serenade for two violins and viola with Marta Kowalczyk, Federico Agostini, violins, and Daniel Palmizio, viola. It’s a sprightly work with three short movements, whetting our appetite for the rest of the evening.
Unfortunately, the Beethoven Piano Trio in E Flat Major that followed sounded under-rehearsed, with Ruth Lenz, violin, Dmitri Atapine, cello, and Derek Han, piano, exhibiting some ensemble and intonation difficulties at times.
The evening, however, came to a strong finish with Dvorák’s A major String Sextet, with Agostini, Kowalczyk and Atapine joined by violist Bruno Giuranna and cellist Christine J. Lee. This major work of Dvorák’s was well performed, but again missing was that special feeling of ensemble when a group has played together for some time. Unfortunately, the short rehearsal period for the festival permits only the basics of ensemble playing, often missing the heart and soul of the work at hand.
The talent and gorgeous sound of flutist Demarre McGill dominated the second and third concerts, beginning with an outstanding performance of Mozart’s Quartet for Flute and Strings in D major with McGill joined by Kowalczyk, Palmizio and Lee.
Soprano Catherine Wethington then joined McGill and pianist Han for an extended group of selections for voice and flute, all reminiscent of birds and bird calls. Duets for flute and coloratura soprano abound in the repertoire, operatic and otherwise, and these numbers provided a real workout for both flutist and soprano.
Wethington has a clear, opulent sound with an astonishing range and flexibility, and she and flutist McGill seemed to be having a great time with the musical give and take. Selections included Händel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso and il Moderato (Sweet Bird),” Delibes’ “The Nightingale,” Felicien David’s “La Perle du Beresil” (Delightful Bird) and finally “The Gypsy and the Bird” by Julius Benedict.
The blend of voice and flute was lovely, complete and unstrained, showing both artists at their best, and giving the audience great delight.
Unfortunately, I was unable to hear the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, which closed the second concert.
Sunday afternoon’s concert opened with a most interesting setting of “Londonderry Air” by Frank Bridge. Utilizing a set of semi-variations on the melody, replete with full, chromatically shifting chords, Bridge established a rich and “modern” sound to this traditional melody. Viola and cello had themes that rather meander about the melody before the finale brought forth the full song in its traditional harmony.
Former Boston Symphony Harpist Ann Hobson Pilot was a guest for Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, being joined by McGill and Palmizio. We were immediately plunged into Debussy’s world of shifting colors and tonalities by the elegant and sensitive playing of this fine trio. An unusual combination, but truly a highlight of the festival.
Nikolai Kapustin is an interesting composer who writes in a jazzy idiom that isn’t quite jazz, but also isn’t exactly something else, either. His trio for flute, cello and piano was given a noble try by McGill, Atapine and Han, but its fiendishly difficult passages seemed muddy and under-rehearsed at times, making a mixed impression, often dominated by Han’s rather heavy-handed pianism.
All was redeemed and well with an outstanding performance of the Schumann Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major with Kowalczyk, violin, Giruranna, viola, Lee, cello and Han as pianist.
These players gave a performance what was both thoughtful and musical, with all the nuance and fervor of Schumann’s most romantic of scores. Lee’s cello solos were lovely as her warm sound carried through the entire work. The finale was an outstanding race to the finish, with everyone winning in this lovely performance.
Based on these first three concerts, La Musica is definitely on the upswing in personnel and repertoire, but we know they all wish for more rehearsal time. Perhaps that can be arranged in the future.